A gorgeous journey through Agartha
Makoto Shinkai has grown and evolved with each subsequent project, and his latest feature Children Who Chase Lost Voices is one of his best works yet. He's come a long way since the glory days of the moving Voices of a Distant Star, both in terms of artistic and emotional storytelling methods and aesthetic quality. The five years that have passed since 5 Centimeters Per Second have obviously been kind to Shinkai's creative process. What we see within Children Who Chase Lost Voices is straight up Ghibli through and through, but it packs a punch all its own that should definitely be enjoyed by audiences who find themselves drawn to both the wondrous and fantastic.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices (DVD)
Studio: Section 23
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Licensed by: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Watase Asuna is a sprightly young student who lives a solitary life. She passes the time ever since her father passed on listening to a special radio. It's actually powered by a special crystal, which allows her to pick up a bizarre song one specific night. Deep in the heart of her rural town she's confronted by a strange creature, but thankfully a handsome older boy swoops in to rescue her. Shun hails from another world known as Agartha, and has a secret agenda of his own. One thing leads to another, and soon Asuna finds herself on a journey to Agartha with Shun and her substitute teacher (of all people) to unlock the secrets of a world hidden away below the earth's surface.
While the film's obvious strengths lie in its picturesque landscapes, lush greenery, and hypnotic visuals, fortunately it excels in assigning belivable motives and personalities to each character, each with their own agendas, both deeply personal and touching. Asuna is an accessible lead with bright-eyed enthusiasm and a loneliness that feels as though it could envelop one whole and Shun is a delightful puzzle that you'll want to work out before the film ends, which feels entirely too early once you've gotten engaged.
Despite the spunky young leads and obvious overtones of young love, surprisingly Asuna's teacher's personal mission is the most touching of all: he's looking to harness the power of Agartha to potentially resurrect his deceased wife. He commands the same kind of longing and hollowness felt in Shinkai's previous outing like The Place Promised in Our Early Days exhibited so strongly, and that's an integral part of the thread that ties this decidedly more grandiose feature to the filmmaker's earlier work.
But it's not all sadness and despair, of course -- the same sense of wonder and amazement is amplified throughout the feature, especially when Agartha's many impressive details come to life. The ruins of a civilization long gone, a tribe of bizarre humanoids, and the adorable mascot character Mimi work in tandem to ensure the mythical world is painted as brilliantly to the audience as it does to the three leads. And it's a joy to explore along with them.
The English dub cast did a fantastic job bringing the script to life, but Hilary Haag as Asuna left a bit to be desired, as I preferred the Japanese cast for Asuna's energetic self, adding a bit more zest to the older, more mature version voiced by Haag. Otherwise, the dub is solid -- if you're looking to enjoy it without reading subtitles, instead drinking in the gorgeous animation and the new direction Shinkai seems to be moving in.
While it feels like a departure in ways from more solitary works like 5 Centimeters Per Second, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a slick and quite beautiful adventure that fans of Makoto Shinkai's work (and Miyazaki films in general) should seek to add to their collection -- especially if you've worn out that copy of Totoro and need something a little more adult to tide you over.
8 - Great. 8s are great examples of their genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
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